How often have you told someone, “I wish I hadn’t thrown out that old such and such, because now it’s a collector’s item. I could probably get big bucks for it.”
True, if you could put every trendy thing you’ve ever bought into a time capsule for 50 years, you’d have a pretty handsome retirement fund. No matter how cheesy a thing seems in retrospect, it eventually rises again — just look at the current renaissance of pink plastic flamingos and Plymouth Valiants.
One of the interesting things about fashion trends is that the bigger they are, the harder they fall, and the bigger they are when they come back. In the mid-1950s, for example, cars with tail fins were the absolute pinnacle of style. Within a few years, finned cars were so ubiquitous that people got sick and tired of them, and they became an embarrassment instead of a fashion statement. Today, of course, these same cars are valuable collector’s items, and the more outlandish, the better.
The same applies to architectural styles and domestic decorating trends. During the ’60s, for instance, no fashionable living room was complete without an ultra-square, ultra-uncomfortable sofa flanked by clunky table lamps with shades as big as garbage cans. Along with these went a sleek wooden cabinet typically combining a lousy radio, a lousy turntable, and four lousy speakers — an apparatus known as a “hi-fi,” for those of you weaned on CDs. By the ’70s, though, all of these very swingin’ accessories were migrating to landfills by the millions.
This same holds true for every fashion cycle: Pretty much anything that’s coveted in one era will be despised in the next. We tend to think that our own time — that is, the present — has some kind of special immunity to bad taste, but that’s simply not true. What we find to be unassailably tasteful today will be hated kitsch soon enough. So, you Arts and Crafts aficionados — watch out.
Curiously, the same mysterious forces that create and then destroy fashions also invariably bring them back again, whether we like it or not. Hence, some of today’s hippest folks are outfitting mid-century modern living rooms filled with just the sort of junk I was denigrating earlier. This means it won’t be long before my own particular nightmare comes true, and those incomparably clumsy, ugly and gross furniture designs of the 1970s start showing up in hipster magazines.
The fact that everything — even the stuff we hate — comes around again might suggest that we pack all our discards in Cosmoline and wait around for 50 years. Some of us might actually do this if we had the room. For the most part, though, we just learn to let go of things and assume that somebody, somewhere will keep a few examples.
Knowing this may help prepare you for the moment, 50 years from now, when you hobble into an antique shop and find that that crummy Ikea desk you took to the dump now sells for $5,000.